Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here’s a collection of articles I hope you find interesting. Please add yours in the comment section.
Anton Babadjanov, “The Supply And Demand Of Street Space“, The Urbanist. Here’s a nice compilation of the spatial capacity of various modes. We did a count on Symonds Street a few weeks back and found that one lane in the peak hour moves about 710 cars, compared to over 4,000 people in the bus lane.
Bicycle lane throughput varies based on width. A study from Davis, California reports the capacity as 2,600 bicycles per hour per 3.3 feet of lane while most other studies have actually found higher throughputs, so we’ll use this as a lower bound.
Regardless of whether bike lanes are installed in place of 8-foot parking lanes or up to 11-foot travel lanes, we can assume at least two bike lanes per original lane. This gives us:
Bike Lane: 5,200 people / hour
Octavia Boulevard remains a remarkable example of how land-wasting motorways can be re-purposed into urban boulevards. John King takes a look at the architecture that now fills in the road reserve of the former Central Freeway- “In Hayes Valley, old freeway site is now architectural showcase“, San Francisco Chronicle.
The Somerville, Mass map (above) identifies the properties that conform to the zoning code. Daniel Hertz, “More on the illegal City of Somerville“, City Observatory.
But it’s worth underscoring that this is more than just a funny legal “whoops,” the land use equivalent of those old laws about not whistling on Sundays. These sorts of nonsensical land use rules both have serious consequences and are the results of predictable political dynamics—which have, predictably, led to them being adopted in various forms throughout the country. In other words, though we’re using Somerville as our example here, it’s far from an outlier among American cities.
And the problem isn’t just housing, per se. It’s a shortage of exactly the kinds of communities that Somerville represents, and that its zoning code outlaws: relatively dense, walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods. Research by Jonathan Levine and many others have both established that demand for these sorts of neighborhoods outstrips their supply, and that the result, too often, is higher prices, more economic segregation, and less opportunity for lower-income people.
Conor Dougherty covers the growing YIMBY movement in the States and the focus on zoning reform- How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality, New York Times.
Zoning restrictions have been around for decades but really took off during the 1960s, when the combination of inner-city race riots and “white flight” from cities led to heavily zoned suburbs. They have gotten more restrictive over time, contributing to a jump in home prices that has been a bonanza for anyone who bought early in places like Boulder, San Francisco and New York City. But for latecomers, the cost of renting an apartment or buying a home has become prohibitive.
In response, a group of politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown of California and President Obama, are joining with developers in trying to get cities to streamline many of the local zoning laws that, they say, make homes more expensive and hold too many newcomers at bay.
To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighborhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti.
Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.“You don’t want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don’t,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.